Saturday, July 23, 2016
Primitive Africa: In some remote southern regions of Malawi, it's traditional for girls to be made to have sex with a paid sex worker known as a "hyena" once they reach puberty
The act is not seen by village elders as rape, but as a form of ritual "cleansing". Unfortunately, it has the potential to be the opposite of cleansing - a way of spreading disease. Eric Aniva is by all accounts the pre-eminent "hyena" in his village. It's a traditional title given to a man hired by communities in several remote parts of southern Malawi to provide what's called sexual "cleansing". If a man dies, for example, his wife is required by tradition to sleep with Aniva before she can bury him. If a woman has an abortion, again sexual cleansing is required. And most shockingly, here in Nsanje, teenage girls, after their first menstruation, are made to have sex over a three-day period, to mark their passage from childhood to womanhood. Some girls are just 12 or 13 years old. If the girls refuse, it's believed, disease or some fatal misfortune could befall their families or the village as a whole. Aniva appears to be in his 40s and currently has two wives who are well aware of his work. He claims to have slept with 104 women and girls. Aniva has five children that he knows about - he's not sure how many of the women and girls he's made pregnant. He says that he's one of 10 hyenas in this community, and that every village in Nsanje district has them. They are paid from $4 to $7 each time. According to custom, sex with the hyena must never be protected with the use of condoms. It's clear, given the hyena's duties, that HIV is a huge risk to the community. The UN estimates that one in 10 of all Malawians carry the virus. Aniva is himself HIV-positive, but he doesn't mention this to a girl's parents when they hire him.